Chapter 8

An epic nonviolent yarn

“So, exactly how much do you miss Matti?” Mahali Khatoane asked Cass as they wandered through the aspen groves outside the school, avoiding four people with signs that said “Yoga Bends Over Backward—for the Devil” and “Hug Your Children, Not Your Trees.” Khatoane was a year older than Cass, and everyone called her MK; she was from Zimbabwe in the south of Africa, but two years at a UN school in Norway, followed by three years at Oberlin, meant that most of her young adult life had been spent in the west. While at college she’d helped close down a coal ash dump after the utility that ran it—Duke Energy—coated 70 miles of riverbank with gray sludge following a spill.

“Let’s be serious,” said Cass, pausing. She reached for a branch, and swung herself up into a tree.

“That would not be a change for you,” said MK, choosing a branch on the other side of the same trunk.

“He hasn’t called, texted, emailed since he left. I don’t imagine he’s even thought of me. Even if he didn’t get kicked out, he and I were not going to last,” said Cass. “I mean, he’s pretty much out of my league in every way.”

“He is not,” said MK. “You’re as smart as he is, and almost as pretty.” “I’m nowhere near as pretty and you know it. You, maybe, though he’s awfully pretty. And he’s smart in a different way than the rest of us. Grown-up smart. Fast. He understands how things work.”

“He didn’t understand how Maria worked—she bounced him out of here in about no time at all.”

A round-faced woman appeared at the bottom of their tree, a few feet beneath them. “Are you girls worshipping that tree?” she asked.

“I’m a Jew,” said Cass.

“My grandfather knows how to read the future from cattle entrails,” said MK. “He can do it by Skype if you’d like.” The woman walked quickly away, looking alarmed.

“I’m thinking Maria is a different kind of smart altogether,” said Cass.

“And I need to tell you something about Matti. You won’t repeat it to anyone?”

“Of course not,” said MK.

“It’s possible he’s not so so smart,” said Cass. “The great paper about the DL and the walk across India with the flag? Um, I wrote that.”

“What do you mean you wrote it?”

“I mean, he couldn’t come up with something for the first assignment, so I sat down with him and we—well, really I just wrote it.”

“Because he was cute?”

“Because I’ve never had anyone near that cute interested in me,” said Cass.

“Um, about that.” said MK. “There’s something I probably should have told—“

Both their pockets buzzed at once, and they reached instinctively for their phones.

“Whole school, right now in Fannie Lou Hamer,” said MK. They swung off their branches and jogged back through the aspens.